Reed Karaim’s second novel, The Winter in Anna, is a memorable story of a young man whose life is irrevocably altered by a woman with a tragic past.
Purposeless and confused after his father’s stroke, 20-year-old Eric Valery abandons college for a weekly newspaper in tiny Shannon, North Dakota, “where the Midwest becomes the West.” When the news editor makes one mistake too many, a reluctant Eric is given control of the paper. He inherits a staff of three, including Anna, a beautiful reporter about 10 years older and a hundred years wiser than Eric. Anna is as scarred by the world as Eric is unmarked. Yet over the course of a year, they become friends and confidants—there is a tangible “will they or won’t they” vibe—as Eric tries to make sense of his father’s collapse and the guilt he feels. Much more slowly, Anna reveals herself, and in fits and starts we learn about her horrible marriage and the unbearable burden she carries.
It’s a foregone conclusion that things won’t end well. Narrated by a much older Eric, the novel opens with Anna committing suicide by guzzling a quart of bleach in an anonymous Midwestern motel.
The Winter in Anna is both thoughtful and introspective, in the tradition of Pat Conroy and Ward Just, whose own coming-of-age tale, An Unfinished Season, comes to mind while reading this one. Karaim, a freelance writer and author of the well-received political novel If Men Were Angels, doesn’t break new ground, but each of his words is impactful and chosen with care. He possesses the subtle, significant ability to build tension slowly and evenly, urging you to devour this smallish novel in one gulp.